Innovative research partnership: Michelle and Frank improve the D.A.R.E. curriculum

Innovative research partnerships is a series of profiles about collaborations between Ph.D. communication researchers and working professionals in the community. I consider these partnerships innovative because of the creativity involved in initiating and sustaining cross-sector collaborative research. Through separate interviews of both partners in the collaboration, I share the unique stories behind the partnerships, the challenges they face in their collaborative efforts, and the fruits of these partnerships. The series was started in anticipation of my two conferences sessions on research partnerships at ComNet17 in September and NCA in 2017.

Today, we hear from Michelle Miller-Day and Frank Pegueros. They have worked together to revise D.A.R.E.’s drug prevention curriculum based upon evidence-based strategies. Let’s start with what Frank has to say about this partnership.

Frank Pegueros is the CEO and President of D.A.R.E. America.

On what he has gained from the partnershipFrank said that D.A.R.E. has partnered with many researchers and experts over the years to evaluate their efforts because “anything delivered in the classroom should be evidence-based.” Collaborating with Michelle and her research partner, Michael L. Hecht, over the span of a decade has resulted in significant improvements to the curriculum. Frank said D.A.R.E. is in the process of organizing a full evaluation of the revised curriculum, but preliminary evaluations show positive results.

On his role in the partnership: D.A.R.E. provides drug prevention education for elementary, middle, and high school students. Frank said that experts who develop curriculum programs don’t always get to see their program implemented on large scale, but Michelle’s team is committed to seeing the program reach students. Frank added that he believes partnering in this way helps program developers get input and to better understand audiences for their curriculum programs. By partnering with D.A.R.E., the developer’s program avoids getting “placed on a shelf to gather dust.”

On challenges the partnership faced: Frank said that he and Michelle and Michael have worked together for a long time, adding that their partnership hadn’t faced any significant challenges.

On why the partnership works: The fact that “both sides are open” has made the partnership successful, according to Frank. He said both he and Michelle are after the same thing — achieving positive outcomes in the classroom.

Dr. Michelle Miller-Day is a professor in the School of Communication at Chapman University.

On how the partnership got started: D.A.R.E. contacted Michelle and Michael after conducting a search of evidence-based substance use prevention programs. D.A.R.E. ultimately chose to partner with Michelle and Michael to use their middle school  keepin’ it REAL (kiR) program, which had been listed in the national registry for evidence-based programs and practices. The program was found to achieve positive results in several controlled trials and effectiveness studies. Since adopting kiR, Michelle and Michael’s company REAL Prevention has worked with D.A.R.E. to create an elementary program and several high school programs.

On why this research matters: Michelle said that the partnership with D.A.R.E. means their team’s drug prevention program reaches 2.3 million children every year with a curriculum that is evidence-based.

On challenges the partnership faced: Michelle described how her team “D.A.R.E.-ified” the kiR curriculum. This involved incorporating input from multiple stakeholder groups including students, D.A.R.E. officers, and educators, many of whom had differing needs. Michelle said this process took a lot of time but “it wasn’t insurmountable.”

On why this partnership works: The partnership works well because D.A.R.E. focuses on training, marketing, and dissemination of drug prevention, while Michelle and Michael’s  team focus on the science and formative research.

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